One disturbing trend I’ve been noticing more and more this season is the inability of scorekeepers to give anybody an error. The official Major League Rulebook, listed on-line on MLB.com, is pretty cut and dry when it comes to determining errors, saying they should be prescribed when a player:
whose misplay (fumble, muff or wild throw) prolongs the time at bat of a batter, prolongs the presence on the bases of a runner or permits a runner to advance one or more bases, unless, in the judgment of the official scorer, such fielder deliberately permits a foul fly to fall safe with a runner on third base before two are out in order that the runner on third shall not score after the catch.
Pretty cut and dry right? But scorekeepers around the league are handing out more undeserved, cheap hits than ever before, and it is making a mockery of the error statistic. Using errors to determine a players defensive value already a rough way to judge how a player performs on defense, but it becomes completely hollow when scorekeepers neglect to use them. Team defensive efficiency is probably the best data we currently have to judge a defenses total ability, but errors are nice to look at to see how clean an individual fielder is when he catches the ball, and how accurate is his arm. But when they aren’t used and a hit is instead awarded, it improperly inflates batting averages and makes poor defenders look a little better than their actual skill level. I have here just a few examples of poor scorekeeping, and these are just from last night.
Jimmy Rollins’ 2 RBI Double to Left
Try this Jimmy Rollins double on for size. Josh Willingham, the Minnesota left fielder, clearly has a reasonable chance to make the catch. And even if you think that it should go for a hit, Willingham still boots the ball away, guaranteeing that all runners will score. This is painfully and obviously an error, yet when you look at the box score, you see that Jimmy Rollins was credited with a double, and Minnesota has a little 0 in the E column. Baffling.
Bryce Harper’s Infield Single
Bryce Harper had a magnificent game yesterday, ripping a single in the 1st inning and absolutely obliterating a 1st pitch fastball into deep centerfield in the 3rd inning. He also showed he can handle the bat a little bit, laying down a pretty solid rolling bunt in the 8th, which was erroneously played by Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion has always been known for shoddy defense, his nickname among baseball enthusiasts being E-5, and he made a mockery of Haper’s little bunt, obviously aware of the youngsters speed, but was bailed out by a friendly hometown scorekeeper in Toronto. Harper’s hit didn’t amount to anything anyway, because he was gunned down stealing 2nd only a few pitches later.
Judging whether a particular ball is a hit or an error is difficult process most of the time, and scorekeepers, like umpires, generally do a good job. It just makes me wonder what they are thinking when its obvious to everyone watching that a player has screwed up and committed an error, yet they mark it down as a hit. It’s fair and it would go a long way toward restoring even a little credibility for the error as a viable statistic.